Friday, September 16, 2011

What a City! Philadelphia and World Tea East

Philadelphia is the historical incubator of great ideas: the United States of America, the cheesesteak (pictured left), and,  thanks to my parents and Albert Einstein Medical Center, me. The thought of Philadelphia birthing another great idea, World Tea East, was an exhilarating one.
Would there be tea-themed fireworks? After all, Philadelphians love a celebration. Even if there were no tea cups formed in the night sky, World Tea East caused two of my all-time favorites to collide, i.e. Philadelphia and tea. So I registered, checked my SEPTA token stash, and started the countdown to September 9.
Starting the Tea Party Right
Tea industry professionals gathered to honor the first recipient of the Cha Jing Lifetime Achievement Award: Mr. John Harney, founder of Harney & Sons Fine Teas (please see the post "Worth the Wait - Tea & Orchids"). Celebrating a person who helped establish the specialty tea industry standards for growth, innovation, and education was indeed a special event. Congratulations!
Pour a Cup, Make a Friend
In between the focused tea tastings, the educational seminars, and the marvelous tea breaks, there were opportunities to connect with colleagues. For some of us, we were able to expand our acquaintance beyond Twitter avatars to meeting face-to-face for the first time. If there was any doubt, then please know that social media mavens Nicole Schwartz (@amazonv) and Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) are both worth more than 140 characters.
Attending World Tea East resulted in my circle of unapologetic tea aficionados becoming even wider. Alas, even tea enthusiasts cannot live by tea alone. So it was my honor and privilege to introduce these good tea people to the Reading Terminal Market, located across the street. Our dialogue, sealed over delicious and reasonably-priced food, left me satisfied for having made the trip. Philadelphia is a wonderful city yet being surrounded by tea professionals made it even sweeter. Until our next tea adventure, cups up!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oo La Ladurée

Upper East Madison Avenue is not a location for the fainthearted retailer.

Walking along Madison I was both pleasantly distracted by the Tom Ford display window and deeply saddened by the closed Sonia Rykiel boutique. Thankfully for us shoe fiends, also known as fans if you're in denial, Yves Saint Laurent took its pumps a block over to Fifth Avenue.

What is the missing ingredient? Succeeding in New York City, it seems, takes more than keen fashion sense and a refined French accent. I tabled further analysis because my feet sans YSL had reached our intended destination: Maison Ladurée, 864 Madison Avenue.

Maison Ladurée (New York)

Entering Ladurée's doors, I noticed two things: the line and the palpable, curious anticipation. Maison Ladurée, the legendary Parisian confectioner exported its pastel 19th century decor and its cherubs into a luxury retail space offering assorted chocolates, preserves, candles, perfume, tea, and yes, le macaron.

There was no turning back now and this is not a place to count calories. How could one walk away without at least one macaron? Why make such a fuss over sweets? After all, how good can these ganache-filled treats be?

"They are the best in the world," my line neighbor assured me as we perused the laminated macaron menu. "When was the last time you were here?" I asked. "Last week," she replied, not a little embarrassed.

We exchanged ideas about enjoying food and life. She freely shared her favorite macaron flavors, the red Framboise (Raspberry) and the violet Cassis, and I solemnly received her confession of frequent patisserie visits. As we affirmed each other's staunch support of butter and sugar, it became my turn to place an order. Like a good New Yorker, I was ready with my six-piece ($20) box selection:

  •  Cassis
  • Orange Blossom
  • Rose Petal

À Bientôt (To Go)

Since New York's Ladurée has no patron seating, be prepared to take your purchased goodies elsewhere. Even though the staff is extremely polite as they adroitly moved the line along, American Express cardholders should also have another form of payment handy.

This tea trio containing Earl Grey, Ladurée Blend, and Lapsang Souchong provided enough inspiration for a calm and relaxing pairing at my favorite tea place: chez moi.

Until I next visit Paris, Ladurée New York is now here to help me keep Lapsang Souchong black tea in my cup and a macaron in my mouth. That's definitely worth a sip or two in any language. Let's drink tea. Cups up!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Temper Your Tannins - Tea and Bitterness

What the cha? While Londoners are encouraging each other to combat chaos by rediscovering tea, our United States tea drinking population is starting to resemble the non-Tea party.  It is quite ironic considering how integral the word "united" is to our national identity.

Isn't there an expression, "That’s not my cup of tea”? It seems to imply that for general tea consumption there is more than one cup and opinion available. We tea enthusiasts, unapologetic aficionados and industry professionals all would do well to keep this in mind. Then again, tea is a beverage for which people are prepared to march into war and defend. For the love of steep, let’s not turn our weaponry on each other. There’s been enough war over tea.

Bitterness Shows

The tea plant, Camellia sinensis or Chinese camellia, contains tannins. Even though it is spelled similarly, tannins are not the tannic acid used to cure leather. Tannins are the antioxidant property within tea which cause enough astringency for our mouths to feel dry and pucker into little wrinkles. While every palate is different, we can observe someone’s face to determine if too much tannin turned the tea bitter.

For the daring among us, here’s an experiment:
1.  Steep an Assam black tea for ten (10) minutes
2.  Drink it without milk and sugar
3.  Apologize both to your taste buds and the tea leaves for this exercise

As I observe self-proclaimed tea advocates attempt to tear down an individual, company and/or event, I wonder if the actions result from being personally oversteeped, i.e. bitter. Whenever I encounter a bitter cup of tea, I quickly put it down and promptly make a fresh one to erase the residual bitter aftertaste. 

Bitterness is eradicated when we each spend our time and energy producing something fresh and delicious to share. If the tea industry information we provide is relevant, fresh and uplifting, like tea itself, people will come back for more.

Everyone has a sphere of influence ready to be filled. Rather than be upset when a bitter cup is politely yet firmly declined, choose freshness over bitterness. In other words, please find a cup of tea and sip it.

Get in Where You Fit in

The conversation around tea is growing, whether or not the listener finds it intellectually stimulating, personally relevant, or even logically sound. The question remains as to whether or not we each will choose to participate in what’s already-in-progress. Similar to a Twitter timeline, the dialogue continues and fills any void we had opportunity to input reason. Offer your sphere of influence the tea knowledge you have and keep going forward.
During any discussion, the person who gets heard is not necessarily the one who has the most knowledge or shouts the loudest. The one most heard is the one most respected.

We humans tend to be reciprocal. As we sense that our views are heard, we then are more willing to listen. If we feel demeaned and/or ignored, then we couldn’t care less about the message. Like New York’s Times Square, there is room for multiple voices if we remain aware that none of us has sole right to the shared space. Otherwise, it becomes as cluttered and counterproductive as lost tourists standing in front of the Empire State Building. (Dear tourists: Please stand to the side and look up.)

Tea is ideal for opening communication lines. Let’s drink tea. Here’s to full cups and meaningful conversations!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Technological Twitches - Tea and Teaching Moments

It's amazing how a communication tool can become so embedded in our daily routines that when it is missing, its absence leaves a void the size of a freshly landed meteor.

Try this brief mental exercise: Imagine reaching for your smartphone and discovering that it is not there. Yes, a moment of silence is appropriate. The situation is enough to drive someone to drink, well, tea.

In iPhone Recovery

Initially I felt as helpless as a baby, minus the tears. My often utilized iPhone 4 was left behind while traveling this past weekend. My baby picture (right) shows the beginning of the realization that with some thought, this event may become a personal teaching moment.

After all, we did function prior to cell phones, didn't we? The question is, "How did we do it?" Answer: we used our memories. We did tasks for ourselves that we later delegated to smartphones including:
  • Memorizing phone numbers
  • Remembering appointment times and directions
  • Spelling words
  • Doing calculations
  • Speaking face-to-face

To view this current situation as anything other than a temporary inconvenience would render me a shallow, spoiled and dimwitted American. Regardless of what some living outside the States may believe, we Americans do both think and drink tea. Being without a phone definitely provides opportunity to do more of both.

Happy Endings-in-Progress
Please do not interpret this post as an ode to technology-free living. After all, there is no blog, i.e. web log, without the world wide web. Technology is a tool that adds convenience, speed and ease to our routines and we are blessed whenever access is available. However, there is no replacement for our brains and memories, virtual or otherwise. Any event which forces us to strengthen our brains and to boost our memories is a great outcome.

I'm so glad my brain remembered where I last placed my favorite technical equipment and while the memory is firing well... thanks Mom. Now, where's that tea? Cups up.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Ties That Bind - Flowering Teas

Being an unapologetic tea aficionado means sometimes being considered the friendly neighborhood cupbearer. A cupbearer is the person who sacrificially risks tasting a beverage to guard others against potential poison. It is a distinct honor and great responsibility since everything that comes in a bag is not necessarily tea. Furthermore, loose and/or organic tea does not automatically mean better tea. The proof is in the cup.

Surprise Gift Boxes
Recently I received a premium tea gift box with a caveat that both the tea's quality and taste were unknown. Well, this sounded like music to a tea lover's ears. As a result, my  cupping sets went on high alert. I gratefully received the box and calming opened it. An assorted box of flowering teas, also known as display teas, teas greeted my eyes. This was a most pleasant surprise in spite of my non-zodiac personal guidance system. I put away the cupping sets, pulled out the glass teapot and prepared myself for the another tea discovery.

Becoming Blossoms
It's deceptive to dismiss anything or anyone based upon present circumstances. This is true whether it be a grain of sand, a cocoon, or, in this case, a tea pod. That is the beautiful reality: we are constantly crafting the outcomes we desire.

Flowering teas are created primarily with the end in mind, regardless of how they look. The tea pods are many individual tea leaves bundled and tied together. Flowering, or display, teas are so called because it takes time to them to open up, i.e. blossom, and show outwardly what was inside the whole time. Rather than the agony of the leaf, it's the opening of the leaves.

Tea in Motion
Encountering hot water and being turned totally upside down does not seem like a becoming start, does it? Yet, watch what happens over time...

We now see what the Montreal-based tea company My Cup of Tea Inc. originally designed. I bypassed the packaging and associated health claims to taste the tea itself. The outcome? Watching the tea blossom and reveal green tea, jasmine and globe amaranth was the highlight. However, there are eleven (11) more left in the box. So, there is more opportunity to drink tea. Until the next tea adventure, let's all keep our cups full of great tea. Cups up!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Steeped in Tradition - Tea and Family

A family is a tree with roots, branches, and if blessed, has enough sap to sustain it through adversity and to keep growing stronger, taller and deeper. Like trees, family legacies do not occur overnight. They have sapling small beginnings and the branches share and gain vital nutrients together. Every action towards its care secures benefits, e.g. shade, for others. This family pictured above, the Carters, planted firmly principles about family into my life. As a result, their collective influence still provides shelter. It's true: there's nothing like family.

Rooted and Grounded
To deny one's family makes as much sense as extracting iron from blood. We are inextricably linked with our relatives, whether we like it or not. We share history, regardless of whether we share opinions, and we write history whether or not we choose to do it together.

City born and bred, it baffled me how every year we made a non-negotiable trip to Monroeville, NJ, also known as "the country". There I'd be surrounded by a swarm of tall, handsome, fashionable and very outspoken adults who seemed intent upon inspecting me as to whether I knew what being a Carter meant. Carter?! My last name is Hamilton and my father is Vernon. My willingness to assert myself at a young age seemed to please them. I passed the invisible litmus test and they pronounced me a Carter indeed. Like my mother and maternal grandfather (pictured) before me, last name notwithstanding, I belong to the Carter Family.

Over tea I learned about how my great-grandfather Thomas Gray Carter placed his life's savings within a bank to buy a farm and lost every dime he had when the bank closed in the Crash of 1929 that preceded the Great Depression.  We Carters came together, supported each other, and, yes, that 13-acre farm was purchased and became the family headquarters.  That was the reason we visited Monroeville every year. The land served as a testimony to our family's faith in God as well as in each other.

Branch in the Big Apple 

People often ask me if living a big city like New York is lonely. Considering my family, I find that there is no place where they won't come to see about me and certainly I will seek out my relatives. Very soon our family will gather together in South Jersey to celebrate my 107-year old great-aunt Sarah Frances Carter Brown. Her recent passing means that the Carters pictured above are all deceased and laid in the ground. We Carters now decide whether to nurture or to neglect our family tree.

Yet, roots are planted so the branches can grow up. Through being a Carter, I learn daily that being a family is more than coming together for weddings, funerals, and reunions.  Our family legacy, indeed our strength, comes from a commitment to seeing about and caring for each other. This is what my grandfather said his father taught them: 'When one hurts, we all hurt.' By the same token, if one is determined to make it then we all can make it. Raise your cups in a toast and let's drink tea. We will make it -- together. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tea Where Orchids Grow - My Cottage Garden

Tea serves as an international passport, even though government officials sometimes mistake it for another substance. When tea drinkers meet, there is an excitement similar to meeting a new cousin at a family reunion. Once we become acquainted, we then spend talking time talking about where we fit within our huge tea family. Yes, tea is a journey and it will take you places.

Walking Between Familiar and Unfamiliar
Isn't it odd how we can walk a familiar track and yet discover new ground? Occasionally we receive the opportunity to visit places that hold bittersweet memories. Before our departure, we may feel some trepidation about retracing our steps and/or perhaps even repeating our past mistakes. However, we choose to get on board with our baggage and go. Why? The desire to go forward outweighs anything that would try to keep us from wasting a customized ticket. Regardless of the outcome, some trips are non-transferable.

Upon our arrival, we realize that something's shifted. Maturity, as a paintbrush, added experience to those memories and covered them with a different patina. The place itself may not have changed, but the ticket holder holds a different perspective. This discovery makes the trip over familiar territory worth it. It also becomes an opportunity to appreciate the distance covered, to determine the next destination, and to start traveling in that direction. All aboard!

My Cottage Garden (Lakeland, FL)
The day I met shop owner Deborah Birdwell at My Cottage Garden and listened to her personal tea journey I became connected to another tea-appreciating human being. It was a true sipping celebration. Our sharing conversation over tea truly felt finding a long lost relative.

My Cottage Garden looks and feels like a comfortable Victorian living room. Although the actual tea service discontinued two years ago, Debbie graciously offers to make a pot of tea to any customer caring to sample the wide selection. There was a Ceylon there with my name on it.

Speaking of home comforts, this plate of sweets reminded me of how I grew up receiving company:

The tea store is located at 325 North Kentucky Avenue in historic downtown Lakeland. Surrounded by antique shops and other boutiques, this cozy spot offers its own treasure trove especially for fellow unapologetic tea aficionados.

Despite popular technology, the telephone remains the best contact method here and Debbie Birdwell herself gives directions at (863) 688-9686) to anyone trying to find My Cottage Garden. For those travelers seeking tea, I offer this helpful landmark:

Behind the orchids, there's tea. May all your travels end in tea. In other words, bon voyage (have a good trip)!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cherchez Le Blend - François Payard Bakery

Once upon a time on the Upper East Side in the Land of Gotham, there lived a prince pastry chef who provided a consistently excellent and affordable three-course, French-style afternoon tea. People came from far and wide to visit this tea castle where time seemed to stop once one's feet crossed the threshold. This magical place was called Payard Patisserie & Bistro where the tea sandwiches were miniature masterpieces, chocolate flowed like water, and macarons blossomed abundantly.

This tea tin shown once held the signature Payard Blend, a black tea blended by Harney & Sons and a fine tribute to Franco-American relations. Its memorable flavor profile prompted me to turn my memories into a newly refilled tin. So began this tea adventure.

It Takes A Village

Athough the Payard Blend is available with a different label online, I decided to use my local advantage and save myself the shipping costs. Going to François Payard Bakery seemed like a good idea: save shipping, get some exercise, and remedy an empty tin. Truly there are few things sadder to an unapologetic tea aficionado than an empty tin, n'est-ce pas?

Accompanied by my ever faithful travel companion, also known as an unlimited MetroCard, I eagerly navigated Greenwich Village to 116 West Houston Street between Thompson and Sullivan Streets [Subway: Broadway-Lafayette (B, D, F, M)].This is the site that welcomed me:

Be not distracted by this tempting display of pastry par excellence. Focus. Remember today's mission is tea. Carefully reading the labels on all the tea tins, however, I saw no Payard Blend. No Payard Blend?! Where's the Payard Blend? Alas, the elusive Payard Blend tea was not at home.

Culinary Consolation

Instead of dragging myself over to the Plaza Hotel and drowning my sorrow at the FC Chocolate Bar, I attempted to console my disappointingly empty tea quest with a temporary diversion: lunch. The turkey and Gruyere cheese sandwich on pretzel bread paired with a rich, hearty lentil soup greatly improved my disposition.

What tea does one choose after priming the taste buds with such great anticipation? Please don't get it twisted: this was no time for tisanes. A thoroughly enjoyable Earl Grey carried the day. While I sipped my senses suddenly became alert to the chocolates and macarons surrounding me. A jumbo cranberry macaron beckoned like a siren and answering the call, I discovered it pairs quite nicely with Earl Grey black tea. As for the chocolate, where there is François Payard, there will be chocolate.

Happy Beginnings

This summer chef Payard returns to the Upper East (1330 Third Avenue) to open a venue reminiscent of the once beloved Payard Patisserie. That means that my Payard Blend tin hopefully will be filled soon. In the meantime, we'll eat macarons, dream in chocolate, and drink tea.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Releasing Our Inner Pooh - The Tea + Honey Store

Exploring a city on foot gives the walker an opportunity to see the metropolis up close and personal. The bigger the city, the more ground there is available to discover. Every place, whether urban or rural, has its own charms and every step we take is a decision towards discovering them.

For those individuals who ignorantly say that cities like New York lack trees, I merely inquire when was the last time they walked through Central Park? Surely at least one tree may be found on the 843-acre public park. This photo shows a few trees that I noticed during a recent walk and they do not appear to be saplings. Perhaps the person is unable to see the trees for obsessing about concrete. Nevertheless, excuses prevent discoveries. It is time to keep walking.

Blooming Where You Are Planted

Productivity produces evidence. When trees produce buds, blooms and blossoms, it is a visual expression of life springing up from the roots. The blossoms announce that there is work in progress and the fruit is on the way.

Additionally, blossoms stand out among green leaves and their uncommon quality attracts those who recognize their worth, i.e. bees. Honey, the collaboration between bees and blossoms, is a sweet example. I imagine Alan Alexander Milne's character Winnie-the-Pooh would be quite pleased at discovering such productivity.

For the Pooh in You - The Tea + Honey Store (New York)

As a rule, I prefer to keep my palate sharp and to add nothing to my teas and/or tisanes. A tisane (pronounced "tis-an"), or herbal, is an infusion which  does not contain the actual camellia sinensis tea leaf. Curiosity, however, motivated me to try boosting my immune system via adding local honey to a rooibos tisane.

Rooibos (pronounced "roy-boss"), is the red bush herbal grown in South Africa.When it came to selecting and purchasing honey, I visited Nicolas Sampedro and my friends at The Tea + Honey Store on the Upper East Side. Please note: the Grand Central location is closed.

My first ever non-tea purchase at The Tea + Honey Store was Hamptons Honey Wildflower Blossom. I am happily conducting my experiment. Regardless of how the experiment turns out, I have blossoms, some honey and a bear as reminders for me to keep producing. Life is indeed sweet. Cups up!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Chef With Love - Tea and Dessert

Strawberry Shortcake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Warning: This post is rated "D". Viewers are asked to use discretion as I plan to discuss in full and graphic detail desserts that contain sugar, cream, butter and chocolate. All calorie-counting obsessives and fad dieters are strongly encouraged to stop reading beyond this point. The author accepts no responsibility for any subsequent urge to consume desserts immediately after viewing these images. Again, viewer discretion is advised.

Raising Cane - A Case for Sugar

Taking My Lumps in Style
Sugar is a powerful two-edged sword that must be wielded carefully. Chemically speaking, our bodies convert sugars like glucose and lactose to fuel daily operations. Our DNA contains the sugar deoxyribose (pronounced dee-ok-si-rahy-bohs), so it would seem that our human frames are wired to receive sugar. Like any other finely tuned equipment, however, our bodies are affected by whatever we choose to add to our individual systems. Avoid adding any substance that keeps your system from functioning well.

Although I take my tea without sugar, I have relatives who routinely take a little tea with their sugar. Every family has its lumps, doesn't it? Being the tea aficionado I am, I encourage them to take the first sip without sugar to get the tea's true flavor profile. Oolong tea being the exception, I'll provide sugar and control the lumps. I'd rather see them consume pure cane sugar than substances carried about in innocuous-looking pastel-covered packets. Quality trumps quantity.

"D" Is For Dessert

Chocolate Lava Cake
Desserts are serious commitments. Dessert makes or breaks the meal. It is the finishing touch, the pièce de résistance, which elevates a very good turkey club sandwich to one of the most memorable meals ever consumed. When offered a menu, I routinely first check the dessert selections and then consider the preceding courses. When it comes to dessert, a strategy is essential.

This Chocolate Lava Cake dessert lovingly prepared by Clint Lafabvre, executive chef at the historic Lakeland Terrace Hotel, was an utterly delightful surprise. Chef Lafabvre clearly speaks my culinary language fluently. It's joy to meet a man who instinctively understands subtlety and nuance are far more effective tools in wooing tastebuds than overpowering them. Lifting my spoon in anticipation, I mentally made these sensory notes:
  • Presentation - simple yet elegant
  • Sense of mystery - a warm, chocolate pudding center hidden beneath a generous pouf of cream
  • Color - one perfect strawberry, a cluster of blueberries, and drizzles of chocolate sauce
  • Texture -  moist, firm, flourless chocolate cake provides a rich foundation
  • Taste - Chocolate, sugar, cream and fresh berries each fully represented and balanced each other
After savoring the very last morsel, I wondered if it was possible to become engaged via dessert. This dessert was that serious. This conundrum requires some tea contemplation. Let's drink tea!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Liquid Satisfaction - Tea and Chocolate

Being a connoisseur means that an individual invests considerable time and knows much about the subject matter. When it comes to tea and chocolate, well, I've decided to be a lifelong learner. Thankfully, they pair well together so it makes studying tea and chocolate a delicious culinary endeavor.

Passing The Cacao Bar

It's amazing how my walks around New York's five boroughs usually terminate in food and tea shops. Walking remains my primary form of exercise towards increasing my oxygen intake and all the other good food I intake. Additionally, my doing Pilates sessions regularly help me walk gracefully and maintain an abdominal core conducive to exploring tea and food establishments.

Yes, tea and chocolate rank very close to oxygen as items which add vigor to my life. One day while taking in some oxygen, I developed an intense craving for full, rich, dark chocolate. Wait to exhale?! The desire grew more insistent with every step. Finding a suitable place to satisfy a chocolate desire became my quest. Who knew exercise would have such an effect on the psyche? After considering several therapeutic options, I remembered The Cacao Bar at MarieBelle Chocolate, located at 484 Broome Street, has food, tea and chocolate in abundance. Relief was literally at my feet.

Experiential Education
Although MarieBelle carries a great tea selection, drinking chocolate is a must-have for every first time visitor or tea aficionado craving chocolate. It's also a fantastic place to learn more about chocolate.

Chocolate originates from the seeds of the cacao tree, usually found in tropical climates. These seeds are dried, cleaned and roasted to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground into cocoa mass, rough but pure chocolate. Once liquified, chocolatiers like MarieBelle take the chocolate liquor and transform it into wonderful beverages. For example, the "Spicy" drinking chocolate pictured here features 60-70% Colombian cacao blended with chipotle and ancho chile. How does it taste? Every cup speaks for itself...